In the classic television series, Homicide: Life on the Streets, Detective John Munch — played by Richard Belzer — confronts a murder suspect over lying to him. He isn’t upset about the lie, he expects that, what he’s upset about is that the lie is so implausible that it is actually an insult:
As a prelude to Obama’s address last night declaring which laws he will and won’t enforce, House Appropriations Committee Hal Rogers permitted one of the most dishonest statement ever uttered by an American politician to be issued:
In a statement released by Committee Chairman Hal Rogers’s (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama’s scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama’s actions is funded entirely by user fees.
As a result, the committee said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency would be able to continue to collect fees and carry out its operations even if the government shut down.
“This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications,” the committee said in a statement. “Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the ‘E-Verify’ program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to ‘defund’ the agency.”
This, politely, is balderdash, though the technical term is “screaming bare faced lie.” Not only is it a lie, it is a lie that is the insult to the intelligence of anyone who reads it or has it read to them.
At The Federalist, Sean Davis pretty well demolishes the argument:
And from that power of the purse come the most powerful words in federal law: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no funds shall be appropriated or otherwise made available for ______.”
That’s it. That’s literally all it takes. It doesn’t matter if the spending is mandatory or discretionary, good or bad, wasteful or essential; when that sentence becomes law, it nukes whatever spending it touches up until the point at which that sentence is repealed or superseded by a future law.
Republicans can add defunding language to any bill whenever they so choose. The issue is not that they can’t use the power of the purse to block Obama’s lawless power grab. The issue is that they don’t want to. The real shame is that they can’t even be honest about that.
But to be fair, let’s address Rogers statement on a point by point basis.
“…funded entirely by user fees.”
What does the 2014 Department of Homeland Security budget request have to say about this?
The key words that should jump out at you are “Budget Request.” If the agency ran on auto-pilot as Rogers egregiously claims then this would be completely superflous.
But what does the agency, itself, have to say about this claim:
Additionally, Congress provides appropriations for specific USCIS programs. Appropriated funding for FY 2010 included asylum and refugee operations (4th Quarter contingency funding), and military naturalization surcharge costs ($55 million); E-Verify ($137 million); immigrant integration ($11 million); REAL ID Act implementation ($10 million); and data center consolidation ($11 million). Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010, Public Law 111-83, title IV, 123 Stat. 2142, 2164–5 (Oct. 28, 2009) (DHS Appropriation Act 2010).
For this claim we award:
…carry out its operations even if the government shut down.
It all depends. From the DHS budget request:
As you will note, the Citizenship and Immigration Service employs at least 13,151 federal staff (FTE=full time equivalent two people working 20 hours a week is 1 FTE). Those are federal civil servants on the GS scale. They are paid via appropriated funds. No matter how many bazillion dollars the agency collects for fees, civil service employees are funded by a line item appropriation that serves as a control on how many people the agency can employee. As far as I can tell, the only federal entity that has employees paid by anything other than appropriated funds the Department of Defense which has a class of employees who are paid from non-appropriated funds.
The CIS uses contractor support to collect and process fees, but contractors are not allowed to operate unless supervised by a federal employee. By prohibiting federal involvement the agency would be required to issue a “stop work” order to the relevant contractors.
In the case of a government shutdown, it is possible that the agency could continue collecting fees but no one is really talking about a government shutdown, are they? So this claim may or may not be true but it is a strawman.
This claim rates:
Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to ‘defund’ the agency.
This is simply obfuscation. No one is seriously talking about “defunding” the agency but they are talking about using the appropriations process to prevent the administration from modifying immigration law without Congressional approval, because under that really old thingy we operate under, I hear that it is over a hundred years old, gives power over immigration and naturalization to the Congress. Despite the fact that this agency is fee-based that doesn’t mean the money can be spent anyway the agency wishes. The Congress has the clear authority to forbid any appropriated funds to be used in support of this activity, this would mean that no agency employee could be involved in planning or execution of the program. The second pressure point, as Sean Davis pointed out, is that just because the agency has access to non-appropriated funds that doesn’t mean they can just spend them.
Congress can also withdraw the authority to collect fees via the appropriation process by making the service free to applicants.
This statement is not only a strawman, as defunding the agency is not an objective, but it is patently untrue. Congress can change the fee schedule, it can forbid the use of federal employees in support of certain activities, and it can, under the same authority that established the three major trust funds operated with immigration fees, restrict what those funds are used for or it could direct the funds go directly into the general fund of the United States Treasury.
This claim earns:
What Rogers has done, and we have to assume it was done with the approval of House Speaker John Boehner, is simply tell a lie to the American people. He thinks he’s being cute by emphasizing the fee based nature of Customs and Immigration Services but he is just too cute by half. The USCIS receives a hefty, at least by my household budget standard, infusion of appropriated funds each year to pay for staff and some operations. Both of those are obviously under the purview of the Appropriations process. The fees are a creature of Congressional authorization. Congress can remove the authority to collect them and it certainly has the authority to determine how they are spent.
And for Heaven’s sake, don’t treat us like we are Montel Williams.